Amtrak signal glitches slow down Boston's rail system

BOSTON – A malfunctioning signal outside the city’s busiest commuter hub triggered massive delays for rail passengers on Thursday, and the problems were expected to continue into the Friday morning commute.

Passengers on commuter rail trains from west and south of Boston were forced to get off trains at stops before South Station and transfer to rapid transit lines or walk the remaining distances to their destinations Thursday.

The signal is operated by Amtrak, which said track switches were being operated manually, significantly reducing the number of trains that can arrive at or depart from the station. Amtrak also was reporting delays of 30 minutes to 2 hours on some trains departing Boston for destinations on the Northeast Corridor such as New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The state Department of Transportation said many city commuter rail trains would be unable to access South Station on Friday morning. It said passengers should expect delays throughout the morning commute and allow extra time for free transfers to the subway system.

Many trains won’t go all the way to South Station but will stop at outlying stations, where passengers can make free connections to other lines. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and commuter rail operator Keolis Commuter Services will have workers at key stations to help guide passengers.

A frustrated Gov. Charlie Baker said he was ready to “strangle somebody.”

“I’m just waiting for somebody who looks like they deserve to be strangled,” Baker, a Republican, said during his monthly “Ask The Governor” segment on WGBH-FM.

The MBTA cancelled several Thursday afternoon commuter trains and announced that only two lines, the Providence/Attleboro and Stoughton lines, would operate out of South Station. Other lines would begin their trips from other Boston-area stations.

Angry and often confused commuters tried to figure out the best ways to get home Thursday evening. There were long lines of people at Back Bay Station, the nearest commuter rail stop to South Station, trying to catch trains.

Linda Constantine told The Boston Globe she was worried about getting home to Franklin in time to pick up her children.

“I left a little early, because I thought it might be crowded,” she said. “But, oh, my God, I didn’t expect this.”

A spokeswoman for Keolis, which operates the 394-mile commuter rail network under a contract with the MBTA, apologized to passengers while noting the problem was with equipment operated by Amtrak.

Amtrak spokesman Michael Tolbert said the railroad had not been able to pinpoint the cause of the malfunction in the signal, which he described as a switching control that guides trains to the 13 sets of tracks at the station. The signal had been one of Amtrak’s most reliable in the past, he added.

“We’re working as hard and as fast as we can” to resolve the issue, Tolbert said.